It’s the first time to New Zealand for Gary Longwell and it’s a trip he is enjoying immensely.
Speaking to the genial Ballymena lock this morning about the atmosphere in this rugby mad country he said.
“It’s been simply fantastic. The thing about New Zealand is that they really know their rugby, no matter where you go, any restaurant or you could be talking to people in the street and they know the game inside out. You want to come over here and do well. You really want these people to rate you.”
So last week would have taken the Irish some way down that road?
“I supppose a bit maybe. I was hugely disappointed to lose especially when we’d gotten into a position where we should have won the game. Everybody talks about the invincibility of the All Blacks but that wasn’t really the case. They were there to be beaten. I think in the end a lot of it went down to luck. We certainly didn’t get much that night.”
“But to be in the position where we could’ve been the first Irish team in history to beat the All Blacks and not take it, was massively disappointing. But the great thing about it is, that it’s a two Test trip so we have another chance one week later.”
“To win on Saturday? I think every player just needs to play one or two percent better and that will be enough to win it.”
“All the talk is that the All Blacks will be all fired up because we pushed them close but for me Ireland are going to come out fired up because we lost a game we should have won. We had the game for the taking and didn’t take it.”
“The intensity of playing against the Blacks is no different than playing Six Nations, it’s a fantastic tournament. England and France – teams that we have beaten – are at the same level. The European Cup too has raised everybody’s standard now so we feel we’re playing at the same level as these guys.”
“Ten years ago maybe things were different. They were certainly playing at a higher level week in week out. We were playing a lot of club rugby but now the focus has changed to provincial rugby and national rugby and I think in a lot of ways we’ve caught up.”
Asked the vexed question about missed chances and the penalties that didn’t go over in Carisbrook, Longwell will tolerate no criticism of Ronan O’Gara.
?Those kicks don’t affect you. We all know how difficult the ball is to kick.”
“Look, I stay behind a lot with the kickers to catch the ball for them and I’ve known all week that this ball is tough to kick. There’s nothing wrong. Ronan hasn’t turned into a bad kicker. He and Davy are both actually exceptional kickers. It’s just a matter of getting used to this new ball. I know they’ve been working very hard at it as well.?
And is Gary Longwell looking forward to Saturday night?
A huge smile spreads over his face. ?I can’t wait, I’d love to play now.